As the Trump administration lurches (wobbles?) towards war with Iran, it is worth recalling how prior U.S. wars were permeated by official falsehoods. Bombs don’t make politicians trustworthy. Instead, warring and lying are practically two sides of the same coin.
Here’s a couple book reviews I did on books dealing with foreign policy perfidy and a 2008 article on “Warring and Lying,” excerpted from Attention Deficit Democracy. After the articles, I have reposted some of my recent tweets on Trump and Iran.
Worst and Brightest
Review of Magic and Mayhem: The Delusions of American Foreign Policy From Korea to Afghanistan, Derek Leebaert, Simon & Schuster, 336 pages
By James Bovard
In the decades since John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, foreign-policy experts have become Washington’s leading con men. Even though Wiz Kids and Dream Teams have dragged America into one bloodbath and debacle after another, politicians and the media still kowtow to the “Best and Brightest.”
Derek Leebaert’s Magic and Mayhem seeks to explain how such experts get power and why their influence is so pernicious. Leebaert, a Georgetown University professor, derides the influence of “magical thinking” in foreign policy: “Shrewd, levelheaded people are so frequently bewitched into substituting passion, sloganeering, and haste for reflection, homework, and reasonable objectives.”
Regardless of policymakers’ Ivy League pedigrees, U.S. foreign and defense policy routinely operates on a village-idiot level of information. Leebaert notes that “FDR remarked that most of what he knew about the world came from his stamp collection.” (Perhaps some charming old Russian stamps filled Roosevelt with affection for Uncle Joe.) Similarly, Leebaert observes, Paul Bremer, chief of Iraq’s Coalition Provisional Authority, admitted in his memoirs “that he didn’t know anything about Iraq when stepping down from Kissinger Associates to become America’s proconsul.” Adam Garfinkle, who worked as a speechwriter for Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, said in 2007, “No one in a senior position in this administration seems to have the vaguest notion of modern Middle Eastern history.”
The Pentagon matches the White House and State Department bonehead for bonehead. The U.S. military floundered in Iraq and Afghanistan because, as Leebaert writes, “the Army not only forgot everything it had been bloodily taught about counterinsurgency in Vietnam, but in Vietnam, it had forgotten everything it had learned about counterinsurgency in Korea as well.”
Cluelessness is perhaps the greatest constant in our foreign policy. In 1967, the Pentagon ordered top experts to analyze where the Vietnam War had gone wrong. The resulting study contained 47 volumes of material exposing the follies that had at that point already left tens of thousands of Americans dead. After the study was finished, it was distributed to the key Johnson administration players and federal agencies, where it was completely ignored, if not forgotten. New York Times editor Tom Wicker commented that “the people who read these documents in the Times [in 1971] were the first to study them.” Daniel Ellsberg, who wrote a portion of the papers and leaked them to the newspaper, noted that the documents reveal “a general failure to study history or to analyze or even to record operational experience, especially mistakes. Above all, effective pressures for optimistically false reporting at every level, for describing ‘progress’ rather than problems or failure, concealed the very need for change in approach or for learning.”
The political system routinely buries information that undermines power-grabs—and war is the biggest power-grab of them all. Neoconservatives who had Bush’s ear encouraged the president to believe he was making his decisions “by gut.” But, as Leebaert says, “To be a ‘gut player,’ as he called himself, rarely enables one to digest information that gives stomachaches.”
Leebaert deftly demolishes Henry Kissinger’s record and reputation. Kissinger, like other “Emergency Men,” sometimes showed boundless condescension towards the American public. He warned Nixon that “withdrawal of U.S. troops [from Vietnam] will become like salted peanuts to the American public; the more U.S. troops come home, the more will be demanded.” Indeed, Kissinger was even colder than he appears in Leebaert’s discussion. According to a December 21, 1970 entry in the diary of Nixon chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, Kissinger “told me he does not favor [Nixon’s peace plan]. He thinks that any pullout next year would be a serious mistake because the adverse reaction to it could set in well before the ’72 elections. He favors instead a continued winding down and then a pullout right at the fall of ’72 so that if any bad results follow they will be too late to affect the election.”
Magic and Mayhem’s discussion of the Korean War is one of the book’s strongest suits. The Pentagon had plenty of warning that the Chinese would intervene if the U.S. Army pushed too close to the Chinese border. But the euphoria that erupted after MacArthur’s Inchon landing blew away all common sense and drowned out the military voices who warned of a catastrophe. Though the Chinese attack resulted in the longest retreat in the history of America’s armed forces, and though the Korean War was more unpopular than the Vietnam War ever was, intellectuals and foreign-policy experts succeeded in redefining the Korean conflict as an American victory. Leebaert notes, “A magician’s wand has swept away the extent that the war turned out to be a hideously taxing minimization of disaster… . It took almost two years to establish our lines securely where they had been a month after Inchon.” “Spinning” the Korean War paved the way for escalation in Vietnam.
Leebaert is at no risk of receiving one of the Agency Seal Medals that the CIA bestows on people—especially congressmen—who serve the agency’s interests. The CIA “has long embodied the insular, turf-obsessed office culture of a savings bank in Buffalo,” he writes. “The CIA has been excellent at keeping all accountability at arm’s length, which virtually guarantees poor thinking.”
The spy agency has failed America more often than politicians or CIA-fed journalists admit. Prior to 9/11, the CIA’s Map Library possessed “maps of the caves, tunnels and dugouts that Bin Laden had helped to engineer at Tora Bora long before, passed on fifteen years earlier by the Afghan guerillas America was then backing.” But by the time the U.S. began its own Afghan campaign in 2001, agency staffers had forgotten they possessed this key to al-Qaeda’s hideouts.
The torture scandals of the Bush years resulted in part from the CIA’s reliance on self-proclaimed experts who knew almost nothing of interrogation. Magic and Mayhem urges the appointment of a “truth commission” to get to the bottom of the post-9/11 torture regime. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has chosen to put its muscle on keeping the lid on the outrages. Naturally, the foreign-policy wise men cheer his cover-up decision. But as Churchill declared, “The purpose of recriminating about the past is to enforce action in the future.” Obama is helping to create a war crimes “get out of jail free” card he might need himself one day.
Leebaert actually understates the U.S. debacle rate abroad. He hails the American-led NATO bombing of Serbia: “The 1999 eleven weeks’ war over Kosovo was undertaken by a coalition of Western governments, preceded by two months of negotiation that legitimized and clarified its objectives, then followed by a UN peacekeeping mission. The presence of overwhelming backup forces nearby as well as American military leadership resting on political good sense and seasoned diplomacy further increased the chances of success.”
What success? After NATO planes killed hundreds if not thousands of Serb and ethnic Albanian civilians, Bill Clinton could pirouette as a savior. Once the bombing ended, many of the Serbs remaining in Kosovo were slaughtered and their churches burned to the ground. NATO’s “peace” produced a quarter-million Serbian, Jewish, and Gypsy refugees. At least the Serbs were not murdering people for their body parts, as the Council of Europe recently accused the Kosovo Liberation Army of doing to Serb prisoners in recent years. (“When the transplant surgeons were confirmed to be in position and ready to operate, the [Serbian] captives were … summarily executed by a KLA gunman, and their corpses transported swiftly to the operating clinic,” where their kidneys were harvested for sale.)
Perhaps even worse, Clinton’s unprovoked attack on Serbia set a precedent for “humanitarian” warring that was invoked by supporters of Bush’s unprovoked attack on Iraq.
Leebaert regrets the American “penchant for dreaming up conspiracies” and the “steadily mounting overall mistrust of government since the late 1960s.” But the notion that rulers are owed trust is the most expensive entitlement program of them all. Blind trust in government has resulted in far more carnage than has distrust of government
Magic and Mayhem scants the role of brazen deceit in U.S. foreign policy. The phrase “damn rascal” does not appear once in the book. “Presidents have lied so much to us about foreign policy that they’ve established almost a common-law right to do so,” George Washington University history professor Leo Ribuffo observed in 1998. From John F. Kennedy lying about the Bay of Pigs debacle in Cuba; to Johnson lying about the Gulf of Tonkin resolution; to Richard Nixon lying about the secret bombing of Cambodia; to Jimmy Carter lying about the Shah of Iran being a progressive, enlightened ruler; to Ronald Reagan lying about terrorism and Iran-Contra; to George H.W. Bush lying about the justifications for the first Gulf War, entire generations have come of age since the ancient time when a president’s power was constrained by a duty of candor to the public.
The standards for decorum in discussing foreign policy practically guarantee that brazen liars will receive a pass, regardless of how many people perish as a result of their perfidy. Kissinger is now a columnist for the Washington Post editorial page—one of the few non-Fox venues that denies George W. Bush deceived the nation into the Iraq War. It is nonsense to presume good faith in experts who continually make declarations that any 12-year-old with a DSL line could disprove in two minutes.
WikiLeaks has revealed that U.S. foreign policy is far more venal and dishonest than the Beltway portrays it as being. From Hillary Clinton’s machinations to steal the credit-card numbers of foreign diplomats to the U.S. government’s spurring Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia and covertly providing arms to boost attacks in Yemen, as well as twisting arms and pulling strings across Europe to block investigations of U.S. torture, the scams have come fast and furious. Most of the American establishment has been indignant about the leaks—as if they violated government’s divine right to delude the governed.
Instead of relying on purported foreign-policy masterminds, Americans should remember Emerson’s maxim that “character is higher than intellect.” Washington is full of intellectuals more devoted to power than to truth. Professors hungry for influence are no more trustworthy than a second-term Arkansas congressman seeking a seat on the House Appropriations Committee.
But even if Americans properly discount the pretensions of the next deluge of foreign policy sages, it is unlikely that the government will begin learning from its mistakes. The only surefire way to avoid past follies is to reduce vastly U.S. interventions abroad. Aside from that, the second best solution is somehow to assure that it will be the pro-war experts, congressmen, and political appointees whose blood is shed in the conflicts they start.
American Conservative, July 2011
Review of Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics, John J. Mearsheimer, Oxford University Press, 2011.
By James Bovard
Politicians nowadays treat Americans like medical orderlies treat Alzheimer’s patients, telling them anything that will keep them subdued. It doesn’t matter what untruths the people are fed because they will not long remember. But in politics, forgotten falsehoods almost guarantee new treachery.
This new book by John Mearsheimer, coauthor of the courageous masterpiece The Israel Lobby, is a step toward remedying the academy and media’s disregard of political perfidy. Mearsheimer “concentrates on lies that are told in the service of the national interest. These strategic lies benefit the collectivity, unlike selfish lies, which benefit a particular individual or group of individuals.” He explains that “strategic lies can do good things for a country, although there is always the possibility that they will do more harm than good.” On the book’s own evidence, there’s more than a possibility.
Why Leaders Lie deals solely with foreign policy lies. Mearsheimer analyzes five different types: inter-state lies (to delude foreign governments), fearmongering (deceiving the citizenry by exaggerating a foreign threat), strategic cover-ups (such as denying military and other debacles), nationalist myths (dissimulating about the nation’s sordid past), and “liberal lies” (such as denials about targeting foreign civilians).
Mearsheimer touts President Kennedy’s deceits regarding the Cuban missile crisis as an example of a successful strategic lie. In a secret deal with Khruschev, JFK agreed to withdraw Jupiter missiles from Turkey to sway the Soviets to remove their missiles from Cuba. JFK vehemently denied that any such deal was made at the time, and the agreement was kept secret for 30 years.
But the lies had repercussions. The apparent U.S. triumph in the Cuban missile standoff sanctified JFK and increased the arrogance of the Best and the Brightest. The successful con on Cuba probably spurred more brazen lying by the Kennedy administration on Vietnam—with disastrous results for the United States.
Mearsheimer discovers that while national governments lie to each other much less often than readers might presume, rulers are far more likely to deceive their own people. This is especially troublesome because democracy is far more effective at breeding gullibility than at leashing politicians. Lord Bryce, author of The American Commonwealth, observed in 1921 that “State action became less distrusted the more the State itself was seen to be passing under popular control.” The rise of democracy has enabled politicians to convince citizens that government poses no threat because they control its actions—or so the myth goes.
While some people regard political lies as negligible offenses, official deceits often prove fatal to foreigners. Mearsheimer quotes recent research concluding that “democracies are somewhat more likely than non-democracies to target [foreign] civilians” during wars. Why Leaders Lie examines the British government’s brazen falsehoods about the intentional slaughter of German civilians in RAF bombing raids during World War II. “The British government did not want to tell its public that it was purposely killing civilians, because this was a gross violation of the laws of war.”
Similarly, President Harry Truman told Americans in August 1945 that “the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, in so far as possible, the killing of civilians.” But Hiroshima was actually a major city with more than a third of a million people prior to its incineration.
In recent times, the American media and Congress brushed aside almost all concerns about the slaughter of innocent people in Fallujah. Any cheery statement by a Pentagon spokesman was sufficient to prove that the U.S. military was blameless, regardless of how many Iraqi women and children were killed.
The lies of conniving politicians are compounded by kowtowing experts. In Washington, power is the highest truth. Credibility depends on titles, not veracity. Blind deference to authority might be expected from semi-literate peasants in some mountain hollow. But it is more of a problem coming from the academic elite and establishment heavyweights. Leslie Gelb, former president of the Council for Foreign Relations, admitted: “My initial support for the [Iraq] war was symptomatic of unfortunate tendencies within the foreign policy community, namely the disposition and incentives to support wars to retain political and professional credibility.” As Daniel Ellsberg declared in 1970, the Pentagon Papers provided thousands of pages documenting “twenty years of crime under four presidents. And every one of those presidents had a Harvard professor at his side, telling him how to do it and how to get away with it.”
Much of the mainstream media has long been happy to partner with Washington in deceiving the American people. Flora Lewis, a New York Times columnist, writing three weeks before 9/11, commented in a review of a book on U.S. government lies about the Vietnam War: “There will probably never be a return to the discretion, really collusion, with which the media used to treat presidents, and it is just as well.” But within months of her comment, the media was as craven as ever. The Washington Post and the New York Times made it easy for Bush to con the nation into an unnecessary war against Arabs.
Mearsheimer deftly recounts some of the premier Bush administration lies paving the way to attacking Iraq. The administration was staffed with whiz kids whose philosophical training persuaded them to rise above mere facts. Many of the most prominent advocates of the Iraq War, such as Paul Wolfowitz, were devotees of Leo Strauss, renowned as a “philosopher of the noble lie”—on the assumption that truth is only for the elite.
One of the primary sources of misinformation that spurred the U.S. invasion of Iraq was a newly created Pentagon policy shop called the Office of Special Plans. Its director, Abram Shulsky—who received his doctorate under Strauss—co-wrote a 1999 essay that declared that Strauss “alerts one to the possibility that … deception is the norm in political life.” Professor Shadia Drury, author of Leo Strauss and the American Right, notes that Strauss believed that “those who are fit to rule are those who realize there is no morality and that there is only one natural right—‘the right of the superior to rule over the inferior’.”
Politicians get away with lies in part because Americans are taught that anyone who disbelieves the government must be crazy—the same view the KGB took of Soviet dissidents in the 1970s. This prejudice was canonized in the work of former communist and Ivy League professor Richard Hofstadter’s The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Top-ranking government officials exploited that notion to help deceive Americans into submission. At the time of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara declared that it is “inconceivable that anyone even remotely familiar with our society and system of government could suspect the existence of a conspiracy” to take the nation to war on false pretenses.
(After his retirement, McNamara joined the Washington Post’s board of directors. So much for telling “truth to power.”)
Lies subvert democracy by crippling citizens’ ability to rein in government. Citizens are left clueless about perils until it is too late for the nation to pull back. As Hannah Arendt noted, during the Vietnam War “the policy of lying was hardly ever aimed at the enemy but chiefly if not exclusively destined for domestic consumption, for propaganda at home and especially for the purpose of deceiving Congress.” CIA analysts did excellent work in the early period of the Vietnam conflict. But “in the contest between public statements, always over-optimistic, and the truthful reports of the intelligence community, persistently bleak and ominous, the public statements were likely to win simply because they were public,” she observed.
Unfortunately, Why Leaders Lie does not provide a clear standard for judging official deceit. Should we presume that “good government” is when politicians lie to the people for the public benefit and “bad government” is when politicians lie for selfish interests? How can we distinguish between the two? We have to trust politicians to tell us which is which. According to Mearsheimer, if a leader is not lying about foreign policy for “selfish purposes” (such as “their own personal interests or those of their friends”), then he may deserve the benefit of the doubt.
Political lies are far more dangerous than most political scientists recognize. Big government requires Big Lies—and not just about wars but across the board. The more powerful centralized administration becomes the more abuses it commits and the more lies it must tell. The government becomes addicted to the growth of its own revenue and power—and this growth cannot be maintained without denying or suppressing the adverse effects of Leviathan’s growth.
The more power government seizes, the more easily it can suppress the truth. The Obama administration’s aggressive use of the “state secrets” doctrine to cover up the U.S. government’s involvement in torture and other high crimes is typical of how the game is played in Washington. WikiLeaks has proven that U.S. foreign policy is far more dishonest than was commonly believed. Unfortunately, Americans have no legal way to commandeer government files until long after most power grabs are consummated.
Even so, both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were re-elected long after their chicaneries became obvious to attentive observers. But if people are content to be deceived, elections become little more than patients choosing which nurses will inject their sedatives. If the citizenry does not punish liars, then it cannot expect the truth. And the more arbitrary power the U.S. presidency possesses, the more it attracts the type of politician who will not hesitate to lie to capture office.
There is no reason to expect government to be more honest in the future than it has been in the past. The Obama administration’s lies on Libya are eerily akin to the Bush team’s lies on Iraq and the Clinton administration’s lies on Kosovo. But deceiving the American people should no longer be treated as a victimless crime. Why Leaders Lie is a potent reminder of the perils of letting politicians rule by deceit.
Warring as Lying Throughout American History, Freedom Daily, February 2008 [excerpted from Attention Deficit Democracy, Palgrave 2006]
by James Bovard Freedom Daily February 2008
Americans are taught to expect their elected leaders to be relatively honest. But it wasn’t always like that. In the mid 1800s, people joked about political candidates who claimed to have been born in a log cabin that they built with their own hands. This jibe was spurred by William Henry Harrison’s false claim of a log-cabin birth in the 1840 presidential campaign.
Americans were less naive about dishonest politicians in the first century after this nation’s founding. But that still did not deter presidents from conjuring up wars. Presidential deceits on foreign policy have filled cemeteries across the land. George W. Bush’s deceits on the road to war with Iraq fit a long pattern of brazen charades.
In 1846, James K. Polk took Americans to war after falsely proclaiming that the Mexican army had crossed the U.S. border and attacked a U.S. army outpost — “shedding the blood of our citizens on our own soil.” Though Polk refused to provide any details of where the attack occurred, the accusation swayed enough members of Congress to declare war against Mexico. Congressman Abraham Lincoln vigorously attacked Polk for his deceits. But Lincoln may have studied Polk’s methods, since they helped him whip up war fever 15 years later.
In 1917, Woodrow Wilson took the nation to war in a speech to Congress that contained one howler after another. He proclaimed that “self-governed nations do not fill their neighbor states with spies” — despite the role of the British secret service and propaganda operations in the prior years to breed war fever in the United States. Wilson hailed Russia as a nation that had always been “democratic at heart” — less than a month after the fall of the tsar and not long before the Bolshevik Revolution. He proclaimed that the government would show its friendship and affection for German-Americans at home — but his administration was soon spearheading loyalty drives that spread terror in many communities across the land.
In 1940, in one of his final speeches of the presidential campaign, Franklin Roosevelt assured voters, “Your president says this country is not going to war.” At the time, he was violating the Neutrality Act by providing massive military assistance to Britain and was searching high and low for a way to take the United States into war against Hitler.
In his 1944 State of the Union address, Roosevelt denounced those Americans with “such suspicious souls — who feared that I have made ‘commitments’ for the future which might pledge this Nation to secret treaties” at the summit of Allied leaders in Tehran the previous month. In early 1945, Roosevelt told Congress that the Yalta Agreement “spells the end of the system of unilateral action and exclusive alliance and spheres of influence.” In reality, he signed off on Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and the crushing of any hopes for democracy in Poland.
In August 1945, Harry Truman announced to the world that “the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, in so far as possible, the killing of civilians.” Hiroshima was actually a major city with more than a third of a million people prior to its incineration. But Truman’s lie helped soften the initial impact on the American public of the first use of the atomic bomb. (The U.S. government also vigorously censored photographs of Hiroshima and its maimed survivors.)
Presidential and other government lies on foreign policy are often discounted because they are presumed to be motivated by national security. But as Hannah Arendt noted in an essay on the Pentagon Papers, during the Vietnam War, “The policy of lying was hardly ever aimed at the enemy but chiefly if not exclusively destined for domestic consumption, for propaganda at home and especially for the purpose of deceiving Congress.”
CIA analysts did excellent work in the early period of the Vietnam conflict. But “in the contest between public statements, always over-optimistic, and the truthful reports of the intelligence community, persistently bleak and ominous, the public statements were likely to win simply because they were public,” Arendt commented. The truth never had a chance when it did not serve Lyndon Johnson’s political calculations.
Vietnam destroyed the credibility of both Lyndon Johnson and the American military. Yet the memory of the pervasive lies of the military establishment did not curb the gullibility of many people for fresh government-created falsehoods a decade or so later.
During the 1980s, the U.S. State Department ran a propaganda campaign that placed numerous articles in the U.S. media praising the Nicaraguan Contras and attacking the Sandinista regime. As the Christian Science Monitor noted in 2002, the State Department “fed the Miami Herald a make-believe story that the Soviet Union had given chemical weapons to the Sandinistas. Another tale, which happened to emerge the night of President Ronald Reagan’s reelection victory, held that Soviet MiG fighters were on their way to Nicaragua.” The General Accounting Office investigated and concluded that the State Department operation was illegal, consisting of “prohibited, covert propaganda activities.” There was no backlash against the government when the frauds were disclosed. Instead, it was on to the next scam.
Reagan, Bush, and Clinton
Reagan paved the way for subsequent presidents in immersing anti-terrorist policy in swamps of falsehoods. In October 1983, a month after he authorized U.S. Marine commanders to call in air strikes against Muslims to help the Christian forces in Lebanon’s civil war, a Muslim suicide bomber devastated a U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 242 Americans. In a televised speech a few days later, Reagan portrayed the attack as unstoppable, falsely claiming that the truck “crashed through a series of barriers, including a chain-link fence and barbed-wire entanglements. The guards opened fire, but it was too late.” In reality, the guards did not fire because they were prohibited from having loaded weapons — one of many pathetic failures of defense that the Reagan administration sought to sweep under the carpet.
In 1984, after the second successful devastating attack in 18 months against a poorly defended U.S. embassy in Lebanon, Reagan blamed the debacle on his predecessor and falsely asserted that the Carter administration had “to a large extent” gotten “rid of our intelligence agents.” A few days later, while campaigning for reelection, Reagan announced that the second embassy bombing was no longer an issue: “We’ve had an investigation. There was no evidence of any carelessness or anyone not performing their duty.” However, the Reagan administration had not yet begun a formal investigation.
On May 4, 1986, Reagan bragged, “The United States gives terrorists no rewards and no guarantees. We make no concessions; we make no deals.” But the Iranian arms-for-hostage deal that leaked out later that year blew such claims to smithereens. On November 13, 1986, Reagan denied initial reports of the scandal, proclaiming that the “‘no concessions’ [to terrorists] policy remains in force, in spite of the wildly speculative and false stories about arms for hostages and alleged ransom payments. We did not — repeat — did not trade weapons or anything else for hostages nor will we.” But Americans later learned that the United States had sold 2,000 anti-tank weapons to the Iranian government “in return for promises to release the American hostages there. Money from the sale of those weapons went to support the Contras’ war in Nicaragua,” as Mother Jones magazine noted in 1998.
Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in the summer of 1990 provided a challenge for the first Bush administration to get Americans mobilized. In September 1990, the Pentagon announced that up to a quarter million Iraqi troops were near the border of Saudi Arabia, threatening to give Saddam Hussein a stranglehold on one of the world’s most important oil sources. The Pentagon based its claim on satellite images that it refused to disclose. One American paper, the St. Petersburg Times, purchased two Soviet satellite “images taken of that same area at the same time that revealed that there were no Iraqi troops ‘near the Saudi border — just empty desert.’” Jean Heller, the journalist who broke the story, commented, “That [Iraqi buildup] was the whole justification for Bush sending troops in there, and it just didn’t exist.” Even a decade after the first Gulf war, the Pentagon refused to disclose the secret photos that justified sending half a million American troops into harm’s way.
Support for the war was also whipped up by the congressional testimony of a Kuwaiti teenager who claimed she had seen Iraqi soldiers removing hundreds of babies from incubators in Kuwaiti hospitals and leaving them on the floor to die. George H.W. Bush often invoked the incubator tale to justify the war, proclaiming that the “ghastly atrocities” were akin to “Hitler revisited.” After the United States commenced bombing Iraq, it transpired that the woman who testified was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador and that her story was a complete fabrication, concocted in part by a U.S. public relations firm. Dead babies were a more effective selling point than one of the initial justifications Bush announced for U.S. intervention — restoring Kuwait’s “rightful leaders to their place” — as if any Americans seriously cared about putting Arab oligarchs back on their throne. (A few months before Saddam’s invasion, Amnesty International condemned the Kuwaiti government for torturing detainees.)
Bill Clinton’s unprovoked war against Serbia was sold to Americans with preposterous tales of the Kosovo Liberation Army’s being freedom fighters, with absurd claims that a civil war in one corner of southeastern Europe threatened to engulf the entire continent in conflict, with wild and unsubstantiated claims of an ongoing genocide, and with a deluge of lies that the U.S. military was not targeting Serb civilians.
Lying and warring appear to be two sides of the same coin. Unfortunately, many Americans continue to be gullible when presidents claim a need to commence killing foreigners. It remains to be seen whether the citizenry is corrigible on this life-and-death issue.
On Trump & war with Iran: "If Americans have learned anything since 9/11, it should be the folly of deferring to Washington secrecy." https://t.co/ttHWw2jyU5
— James Bovard (@JimBovard) June 20, 2019
Trump & Iran: Remember CIA chief's forgotten explanation to LBJ on he Gulf of Tonkin incident: "The North Vietnamese are reacting defensively to our attack on their off-shore islands." https://t.co/rOZiidGYPe
— James Bovard (@JimBovard) June 21, 2019
Will Trump destroy his chances for a second term with brazenly dishonest invocations to launch an unjustified attack on Iran? Stay tuned. https://t.co/jFYdTyTfHI
— James Bovard (@JimBovard) June 19, 2019